National

Shizuoka throws wrench in the works of Tokyo-Nagoya maglev shinkansen route

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The current plan for the Tokyo-Nagoya maglev route, currently under construction, calls for Central Japan Railway Co. to begin operations by around 2027. The route will slash a trip between Nagoya and Shinagawa, which takes about 90 minutes on the fastest bullet trains today, to just 40 minutes.

But that date is now in jeopardy after Shizuoka Prefecture, citing concerns about maglev construction drying up a river in the prefecture, announced it would not grant approval for construction of a tunnel.

At a news conference in Osaka earlier this week, Central Japan Railway Co. President Shin Kaneko said the controversy in Shizuoka could impact the schedule for completing the Tokyo-to-Nagoya maglev route and that, in turn, would possibly impact the schedule for completing the entire Tokyo-to-Osaka route.

At a meeting of all 47 prefectural governors in July, Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu said local worries, especially among farmers, over the construction had not been dispelled.

Shizuoka’s opposition, however, was criticized by the governors of Nagano and Gifu prefectures, where maglev construction is also taking place. Aichi Prefecture is also upset.

“We cannot possibly accept any actions by Shizuoka Prefecture that delays the opening of the maglev,” said Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura on July 29.

Despite the possibility of a delayed opening for the Tokyo-Nagoya route, once it’s finally up and running plans still call for the final link of Nagoya and Osaka to be completed. The original opening date targeted 2045, later changed to 2037, but could once again be revised following Kaneko’s statement.

Whatever year — or decade — the project is fully completed, a trip between Osaka and Tokyo, now about 2½ hours by shinkansen and an hour by air, would be an hour on the maglev. Nara would be less than an hour from Tokyo by train.

But beyond the timing of the opening, questions remain over financing for the Nagoya-Osaka route and the possibility of cost overruns.

Given Japan’s declining population and the availability of the regular shinkansen and air travel, many wonder whether the train, which under current plans would bypass Kyoto, would draw enough passengers to turn a profit.